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Self-infliction #13: The Dark Night of the Soul

“Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” ~Parker J. Palmer

The dark night of the soul is a double-edged sword. One side of the sword is ego death. It’s an existential pivot point, an ontological crossroads, a buckling threshold. It’s a falling apart. It’s that moment when you finally realize—balls to bones; ovaries to marrow—that there is no permanence, that life is fleeting and all-too-mortal, and your Self is frozen helpless as your Soul tosses your Ego into the abyss.

Deep in the abyss, where the darkest darkness befalls you, crushing your courage with nihilism, smashing your resilience with meaninglessness, forcing you to stare into the hollowed eyes of Death, you cannot help but ask the big questions: How do I adapt to the Desert of the Real? What do I do with this infinity that engulfs me? How do I negotiate with the Great Mystery? What do I do with so many questions and so little answers? Does my path have heart? What will I do with my one wild and precious life?

Hopefully we’re able to answer like Atticus did: “Let my death be a long and magnificent life.”

Where the caterpillar instinctually grows its wings through its annihilation within the cocoon, the human counterintuitively grows its soul through its annihilation within the “cocoon” phase.

From here, it will take every ounce of courage to collect yourself and rebuild your ego on the climb out of the abyss. And it will hurt like hell. Oh, how it will hurt, this ego-merging-with-soul. Like slow sandpaper over a long blister. But if you can stitch the bits of shattered ego together with soul and melt down the shards of your cognitive dissonance with a self-overcoming disposition, then wisdom and providence will be a mighty rope that will lead you out of the abyss and into a new dawn.

As the Vedanta states, “Undifferentiated consciousness, when differentiated, becomes the world.”

Welcome to the other side of the sword. Here, you have learned to transcend egocentric codependence through soul-centric interdependence. You’ve learned how not to take yourself too seriously. You see how everything is transitory and fleeting. The be-all-end-all is always beginning and always ending. You have learned the wisdom of practicing detachment as a way to remain connected to everything.

Having traveled between worlds, you are now a boundary crosser, a bridge gapper, a sacred conduit. You have defied death by detaching yourself from life. Personifying Uesugi Kenshin’s words: “Those who cling to life die, and those who defy death live.”

You have discovered a “magic elixir” that you can now regift to the “tribe.” Sure, you had to count coup on the gods and steal it from them while they slept, but you earned it. Now you have your integrated shadow to pal around with. Now you have all the demons-turned-diamonds filling up your satchel, which is worth more than money can buy. Now you have wisdom radiating from the scars left behind by your sacred wounds. You have discovered that the journey is the thing. More importantly, now you have the polished pearl of your most authentic self to marvel over.

In hindsight your current happiness seems almost masochistic. So be it. As the Rosarium Philosophorum states, “When you see your matter going black, rejoice, for this is the beginning of the work.”


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